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When Leaders Need Help - The example of Moses

Wed, 29 Jan 2014 Source: Gyebi, Daniel

When leaders need help, they should earnestly and boldly seek it. When leaders need help, those who can help should do so in good faith. And when leaders need help and help is offered, they should humbly consider and accept it.

Leadership is not an easy task. Leadership is often the factor that makes the difference between success and failure of families, businesses, organizations, institutions, and countries. We can learn a lot about leaders and leadership from Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time. Moses had the unenviable task of leading a million-plus contingent of disgruntled freed slaves travelling on foot on a mission to an unknown promised land. His patience and other resources were stretched, tasked, and tested beyond measure. He was one of the few people to have had face-to-face encounters and active communication with God. Yet, this great man of God needed and received help from others at some point.

Here are two examples from the Book of Exodus to illustrate how Moses embraced help. The first event is recorded in Exodus Chapter 17. The people of Israel were attacked by the Amalekites. Moses appointed Joshua to lead the physical fight while he concentrated on the spiritual side. Moses took Aaron and Hur with him to the top of a hill, with Moses carrying and raising the staff of God in his hands. As long as Moses raised the staff high, Israel was winning the war, but when he lowered the staff, Israel was losing. When Moses’ hands grew tired, Aaron and Hur took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Then, the two held Moses’ hands up, with each person holding one hand, so that his hands remained steady until Israel defeated the Amalekites.

In the second event recorded in Exodus Chapter 18, Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, visited Moses. Jethro observed Moses judging the many cases brought by the people of Israel. The litigants stood around Moses from morning till evening, with Moses alone judging the cases. Jethro questioned the wisdom in Moses alone handling all the cases and causing delays and discontent among the people. He advised Moses to appoint capable, trust-worthy, honest, and God-fearing men who would act as judges over certain groups of people regarding simple cases, and for the judges to refer the more difficult cases to Moses. Moses followed Jethro’s advice and appointed some judges.

The following are few lessons learned about leaders and leadership from these two Biblical accounts. Leaders should understand the nature and circumstances of their leadership roles and the ultimate source of power. Moses realized that the battle was not his, but the Lord’s, so he went on top of the hill. As the Psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Leaders should take time off and “go to the hills” to commune with God because there are spiritual dimensions to many of the things we do. Leaders should not rely on others to that for them. They should keep in mind that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). Leaders who put their faith and trust in God and earnestly seek him will succeed, but those who put their faith and trust in themselves, people, or things, will fail.

Leaders are human, although a few of them have managed to convince themselves that they are something else. With all his closeness to God and the wonders that God performed through him, Moses did not think of himself as a superman. He recognized that he would need help and that was why he took Aaron and Hur with him to the top of the hill. The planning and preparation paid off because his hands indeed got tired. Good leaders do not create an aura of invincibility around themselves. Good leaders recognize their humanity with all its frailties. They recognize that their hands and feet may get tired every now and then, and they may get sick or become weak every now and then. Therefore, good leaders have the humility to seek expert help, advice, or medical attention, as the case may be, without regard to those who would seek to make mischief out of it.

Leaders should consider good advice or help regardless of who offers it. Jethro was not part of Moses’ inner caucus. He was not even among the people of Israel freed from slavery in Egypt. He was a foreigner from another country. Leaders should learn to embrace ideas and help from all legitimate sources, including sources outside their inner caucuses, because good advice often comes from those perceived to be outsiders. The so-called outsiders tend to inject new blood and bring fresh perspectives into issues. (Remember that in the fabled Kwaku Ananse story, Ananse, the spider and wisest creature in Ghanaian folklore, took the advice of his son Ntekuma when Ananse initially placed all the wisdom in the pot in front of him and was trying unsuccessfully to climb a tree in order to hide it).

Leaders should consider good advice or help regardless of how it is offered. Jethro’s advice was unsolicited. He gave the advice in good faith after observing how Moses was handling the cases. He did it out of a genuine concern for Moses and the people. Any help or advice, whether solicited or unsolicited, and whether communicated secretly or openly, should be offered in good faith and for the benefit of the leaders and the people. On their part, leaders should not ignore advice or refuse help simply because it was not solicited. For example, Moses did not pretend to like the advice to please Jethro only to ignore it after Jethro left. Nor did he play the spiritual card by insisting that since he was the man closest to God at that time, he would not follow the advice until God himself had revealed it directly to him. Instead, after providing justification for why he judged alone, he graciously accepted the advice and implemented it.

Leaders are not all-knowing, philosopher-kings with ready-made answers and solutions to all problems. There are many things leaders do not know and qualities of good leadership they do not always possess. Certain individuals may be wiser, smarter, stronger, or more knowledgeable, skillful, courageous, or spiritual etc. than their own leaders. However, there are reasons why the leaders are leaders, and those individuals are not. Therefore, those individuals should exercise courtesy and respect towards their leaders and be seen to be helpful by using their education, training, knowledge, skills, experience, or other resources to fill the gaps in the leaders’ reservoir of resources for the good of everyone. For example, when Jethro questioned Moses why he was judging alone, he justified it by answering that the people came to him to seek God’s will and it was he who could decide the cases and inform the people about God’s decrees and laws (Exodus 18:15-16). Presented with a better argument, however, Moses relented – the mark of good leadership. A good leader should reconsider his or her position when faced with a superior argument, and not insist on a position just to show where power lies.

Effective leadership is team work. Moses recognized that he could not lead the war effort alone. That was why he appointed Joshua to lead the physical aspects of the war while he, Aaron, and Hur concentrated on the spiritual side. At the top of the hill, there was also team work, with Moses holding and raising the staff of God and Aaron and Hur holding his hands. That was also why he followed Jethro’s advice. Leaders who operate solo or listen to their own counsel are neither effective nor successful.

Leaders are expected to possess and demonstrate many different, and sometimes conflicting, qualities. For example, we expect leaders to be strong and courageous, but humble; to be visionaries with vivid imaginations, but realistic and truthful; to be wise and knowledgeable, but receptive to good advice and ideas from others; and to be just, firm, and decisive, but flexible and magnanimous. Accordingly, leaders need advisers and helpers who are versatile and can evaluate issues from many different perspectives and provide solutions that complement leaders’ best qualities for the particular issues. Leaders also need honest advisers and helpers who can look straight into their eyes and tell them the truth or give their best advice without fear of losing their jobs or falling out of favor. Advisers who tell leaders only those things leaders want to hear are doing the leaders and the people a disservice and may lead the leaders astray.

A good advice or help produces positive consequences. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were about six hundred thousand men, besides women and children. (Exodus 12:37-38). Assuming, conservatively, that there were an equal number of women and children as men, the total number of people who left Egypt was clearly over one million. Yet, Moses alone was the judge of all of them. The advice made a positive impact on the lives of Moses and the people. Moses’ work load was reduced significantly and the people received speedy trials of their cases. As the old saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Those who have waited a long time for their disputes to be resolved can appreciate the help Jethro provided.

Leaders need the help of the people in order to raise high the banner of the common cause all of us share. Like Moses, leaders may not always know if or when they need help. It could mean that some people will provide seats for leaders to sit on when their feet are tired or hold their hands when their hands are tired; some will offer good advice or help, including words of encouragement and good wishes; while others will pray for them. In other words, we should rally behind our leaders and give them all the physical, spiritual, and moral support they need to succeed and excel in their leadership roles. However, if leaders fail after receiving the maximum support of the people, then not only should they be criticized, but some of them who can be changed should be relieved of their leadership roles. It is the responsibility of the people to respectfully question the decisions, actions, and inactions of their leaders that defy common sense or are harmful to the people. If done in civil and polite ways, this form of help would bring progress by making bad situations good, good situations better, and better situations the best.

Up to this point, you may have assumed that leaders are those people out there who canvass for our votes every four years or so when there are elections. The scope of leaders envisaged in this article is quite broad and may include you. Leaders include parents, family heads, teachers, chiefs, queens, elders, priests, directors, managers, and all persons occupying positions of authority, including all the government officials and politicians you were thinking about.

By all means, we should hold our leaders accountable and demand the best out of them. However, those of us who believe in the power of prayers should spend more time praying for our leaders and less time criticizing them. When you feel inclined to criticize a leader or a situation, pause a little and ask if you have prayed for the person or situation to change to your desired outcome. If you have not, pray first, then criticize later if it is still necessary. Similarly, if you are a leader or follower, but have not prayed today, please take time out and pray – for the good of your soul, family, people, leader, business, organization, institution, and country -- and do so routinely.

May the year 2014 be the most prayerful and blessed year for all leaders and those they lead. Amen.

Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.

PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. The facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 027-7423815.

Columnist: Gyebi, Daniel